Book Review – Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong by Angela Saini

A while ago I posted about the science books that I think everyone should read – but I read a lot so that list of books has probably changed by now. In recent months I’ve seen a lot of scientists posting on various social media sites looking for reading recommendations, or giving their thoughts on what they’ve read recently. I figured I would add in some popular science book reviews into my blog in an effort to provide some more up to date reading recommendations. First up is, ‘Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story’ by Angela Saini.

What the publisher says

From intelligence to emotion, for centuries science has told us that men and women are fundamentally different. But this is not the whole story.
Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini takes listeners on an eye-opening journey to uncover how women are being rediscovered. She explores what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included rather than excluded.

What the critics say

“Angela Saini has written a powerful, compelling and much needed account that challenges deeply rooted preconceptions about sex differences – some blatant misogyny, others buried in thousands of years patriarchy. Inferior shows that both are fundamentally flawed, and beautifully illustrates how science is just beginning to tackle this staggering imbalance.” (Adam Rutherford, author of Creation)

“An immensely readable and compelling book, providing up to date and evidence-based ammunition for readers who want to rebuff tired myths stereotyping men and women’s brains and bodies.” (Professor Athene Donald)

“This is an important book, beautifully written, and with compelling narratives and hard evidence researched through the lenses of anthropology, evolutionary history, psychology, and neuroscience. The evidence for unconscious bias is undisputed – so no matter what you think you think about gender and equality – read this book.” (Aarathi Prasad, author of Like a Virgin)

My thoughts

I listened to this book as an audiobook via Audible – I have a monthly membership that allows me to download 2 books a month; I always use these 2 credits for non-fiction, I prefer reading fiction and listening to non-fiction. Overall, I enjoyed listening to this book, but I did find that there were bits of it that were flawed.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book that were dedicated to sex differences in the brain. This is an area that I’ve always thought was simply bullshit science, but there are talented researchers working on this stuff who believe that there are fundamental differences between male and female brains. To clarify, I still maintain that this is bullshit science, but now I have a whole chapter of examples of poor quality research design to back up my thoughts. I found the final chapter very interesting too; it looked at multiple theories that aim to explain the function of the menopause.

The way that information is presented throughout this book is systematic, each chapter taking on a different concept and presenting, in detail, the research on each side of the argument. What I really liked though, was that unlike lots of other popular science books, this didn’t end with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘well there are arguments on both sides’. Instead it made a clear statement: “There is no biological commandment that says women are natural homemakers and unnatural hunters, or that hands-on fathers are breaking some eternal code of the sexes.”

My main problem with the book was that I’m not sure how much of an impact it will have; people who are drawn to read it are likely to have the same perspective as the author, and those who believe that women are inferior to men would probably take one look at the front cover of the book, and happily skip over it. That said, maybe the book’s aim isn’t to change minds, maybe it’s just to give women, and their allies, clear evidence for future arguments.

Would I recommend it?

On audiobook, yes. I don’t think I’d have got as much out of the book if I’d read it rather than listened to it – largely because there were some parts of the text that I felt went on for too long to drive the point home that women are not inferior to men. Saying that though, I went into this book as a feminist, I am absolutely certain that women are not inferior to men; this book didn’t have to change my mind, but it did give me some good ammunition for future clashes with misogynists.

Still stuck for science book recommendations? Alice who runs the ‘Mindful of Science’ blog recently uploaded the first in a series of Youtube videos going through her science bookshelf – take a look here.